Many UK students studying overseas on their Erasmus year abroad, including dozens from the University of Sussex, have experienced prolonged delays in the payment on their mobility grants, pushing scores of them into financial hardship.
Students studying on the Erasmus+ programme, which enables thousands of students to study on a year abroad at some of the most elite universities in European Union countries, were due to receive their Erasmus mobility grant, worth up to 272 euros a month, by the start of term in September, but due to bureaucratic problems at the British Council, some students have not yet had the money transferred to them.
The two-month delay means that many students are facing the reality of amending their budgets, with a considerable amount of Sussex students telling The Badger that the mobility grant was fundamental factor is reassuring them that it was financial viable to study abroad.
A number of students have also reported that their grant has been slashed by around a third, meaning students will no longer get 10 months’ worth of grant money that was originally promised to them.
The complication stems from a delay by the British Council in processing certain institution’s grant agreements, which is required by the European Commission to authorise the payments.
The British Council have offered their apologies for the complications and stressed that the circumstances were “beyond our control”, but accordingly to a number of affected students, have offered no indication of when the problem will be resolved, leaving them in financial uncertainty.
In an e-mail exchange between David Brimage, Executive Office of European Programmes at the Sussex Study Abroad office, and the British Council helpdesk, it was confirmed the University of Sussex’s grant agreement was being processed.
A representative of the British Council said in the email: “I can confirm that your institution’s Grant Agreement has been processed and due to the value, it has been sent to London to be signed by senior management.
“We will issue the payment as quickly as we can once the Grant agreement has been countersigned. I’m sorry I can’t give you a better time frame”.
This information was relayed to overseas Sussex students on the 3 November. Several students studying abroad at the University of Amsterdam and Uppsala University have told The Badger that they are now left in a dire financial situation, with some saying that they are finding it difficult to pay for food and rent.
A petition has been created by an overseas University of Sussex student requesting that the British Council set an official date of when universities can expect to be allocated with Erasmus funding. At the time of writing, this petition has attracted 86 signatories.
Ellen Blakemore, a Sussex student who is studying on a year abroad at the University of Amsterdam, told The Badger: “If the British Council had notified me earlier that there was going to be a problem or had given me some idea when I was going to receive my grant I would have been able to come up with a plan of how I am going to manage my finances.
“I was hoping on my year abroad to make the most of the beautiful country I am living in but as it currently stands, I’m barely going to have enough for food for the next month so it’s impossible to do this. The British Council can apologise for the situation all they like but when they offer no hope of a solution, they’re just empty words.
“The Study Abroad team at Sussex have generally been responsive and helpful to our situation, but their hands are tied as they can’t pay us until the British Council give them the money to do so.”
She also said that if she had known that there would be problems with the mobility grant payment, she “would probably have reconsidered doing a year abroad in the first place”.
A spokesperson for the University of Sussex said: “Students have been kept up to date via email about the current delay with their Erasmus grants.
“We emphasise that the Erasmus grant will not cover all costs incurred in studying abroad and that students should ensure they have enough money set aside to cover all initial expected costs as the first payment can be delayed.”
Explaining how the living without the mobility grant is affecting her, Amy Williams, A Sussex student studying abroad in Amsterdam, commented: “I calculated that with the grant and my student loan as well as money I saved from working at Sussex that I could afford the year – but now I’m rapidly slipping into my overdraft.
Mina Rassouli, also studying at the University of Amsterdam, said: “The only way i could afford this year abroad was thanks to the mobility grant taken into consideration.
“It’s been almost 3 months now since i’ve been in Amsterdam and my financial situation is looking quite grim. All the saved up money is gone and I am relying solely on my parents now which is very hard on them since it’s unexpected expenses.
“I have to look for alternative ways of getting money since we are completely in the dark at the moment as to when we will be getting the grant, also I am delayed with a grant from the city council of Amsterdam.
“Basically I am quite literally surviving on less food and less fun because I can’t afford anything until we receive the money which is detrimental to my year abroad experience unfortunately.”
Harriet Dunn, who is studying at Uppsala University, said: “My decision to study abroad was based on the knowledge that I would be receiving this grant to finance my studies, and my student loan just can’t cover me at the moment.
“I have already asked my daily for money several times, and am in debt to a number of good friends here who have lent me some money for food shopping. At the moment I am unsure how I am going to pay this months rent.
Bethan Hunt, Students’ Union Education Officer, said that: “Studying abroad is such a fantastic opportunity and it would be such shame if it was only an opportunity for wealthier students. I would implore the British Council to consider this when making their decision.”
The University of Sussex currently have 69 students studying abroad of the Erasmus programme, with a further 9 leaving in the spring term.